Opinion: The Unity of Nigeria and Secessionism: A New Approach

By Modest Ibe

In 1862 German Prime Minister Otto Van Bismarch made a very powerful speech titled, Blood and Iron (German: Blut und Eisen) about the unification of the German territories. That speech contained words of fire and brimstone that today has become a favourite quote for some, either in words or action, including wielders of political, military and economic powers in Africa.

Bismarck spoke: ”Not through speeches and majority decisions will the great questions of the day be decided – that was the great mistake of 1848 and 1849 – but by iron and blood (Eisen und Blut).

There have always been great issues facing the unity of Nigeria, and the manner in which the issues have been handled from Independence in 1960 till today has created further discontent in the Nigerian content and space. Fears have greeted the quest for justice, fairness and equity for all – man, woman and child – irrespective of religious convictions, ethnic extraction, and political affiliation. These issues have been a deeply seated undercurrent, which any attempts to sweep them under carpet only rebirth them in different mutations.

These discontents are not ethnic group specific, but shifts in response to the availability or otherwise of a lawful and just lebensraum for all, and means of access to the core decision making centre or the corridors of State power, as to who gets what, when and how, to use David Easton’s analytical concept, regarding the management and control of the instruments of State.

It is not necessarily a northern issue, a south western problem, or a south eastern trouble. It is more fundamentally a systematic structural imperative that demands deep thought and re-think on the amalgamation called Nigeria.

These realities have remained hydra-headed in the calculus and configuration of Nigeria. This in all its perspectives – as an economy, a polity, and people interacting amidst variegated and differentiated, formations, backgrounds, culture, weltanschauung and philosophies as to how the discordant quests can be married into a truly autochthonous and mutually beneficial existence for all, on the basis of mutual understanding, interest and respect, away from the rushed, masterful and unilateral amalgamation of the 1914, which many researchers have represented as the greatest flaw of the colonial administration.

Consequently, the imperial overlord called the 1914 Amalgamation has been inexcusably a chief culprit of the recurrent miasma that have checkered the all most six-decade history of the country in her much desired unity of the country into a people united for peace, progress and development, which has been a desideratum. Hence the failure of the foisted command arrangement of the colonial lords at converting the diverse elements into a shared purpose, on the basis of justice, equity and fairness greatly accounts for the different agitations long before 1960.

The causes of these agitations are deeply rooted in colonial history, and therefore cannot be truthfully situated in post-independence experience of Nigeria, neither can we fairly attribute it to any past or current government. Contrariwise, they are a manifestation of systemic imbalance orchestrated by the framers of our pre-independence political architecture which reincarnated itself in the bogus independence paraphernalia of statehood, without due consultations with the people, without regards to the different idiosyncratic tendencies, values and belief systems they met on the ground.

Today, these realities should hunt the conscience of anyone who has a hand in stamping with airs of irreversible finality such non-altruistic alliance.

It is in our history books that a constitutional challenge occurred in the House of Representatives prior to Independence. On March 31, 1953, Chief Anthony Enahoro who had been elected from Western House of Assembly raised a motion that the British should grant Nigeria self government in 1956. As expected, the leader of North Regional members of the House of Representatives amended the motion by substituting the phrase ‘as soon as possible” for 1956 which in effect was meant to kill the bill. The Governor added his weight by enforcing the principle of collective responsibility of the cabinet. The four Ministers from the Western Region refused to abstain from participating in the ensuing debate.

Rather, they opted to resign their positions. The political Lagos crowd was disappointed by the position of the Northern representatives who frustrated the motion and were booed. Less than two months after the Lagos affair, Chief S L Akintola led a delegation of the Action Group to Kano to explain the position. This resulted in the Kano Riots that left forty-three killed and two hundred and four injured. The situation appeared to have confirmed the feeling expressed by a Member of the Northern House of Assembly in 1952 that “since the amalgamation in 1914, the British Government had been trying to make Nigeria into one country, but the Nigerian people are different in every way including religion, custom, language and aspiration… We here in the North take it that ‘Nigeria Unity’ is not for us”

It was no surprise that the Northern Region responded to all the events with the ‘Eight Point Programme’ which demanded a confederation, some kind of breakaway from Nigeria. Finally the London constitutional Conference of 1954 opted for a federation.

Chief Awolowo’s request that a secession clause be inserted into the Constitution to enable each aggrieved region to secede was rejected. He was however resolute that it has to be ‘one Nigeria or no Nigeria at all’ thus rejecting Dr Azikiwe’s 1953 proposal for a Dominion of Southern Nigeria. In order to back this position, the Action Group committee on the Constitution recommended that “if for any reason the Northern Region is unable to remain in the Federation of Nigeria, the West should stand alone” . This position was very similar to that taken by Chief Awolowo on the eve on the Nigerian Civil War when he threatened that “if the Eastern Region was pushed out of the federation, western Nigeria would quit the federation as well.” Some people take that statement as an agreement or promise for the West to secede.

The agitations did not end with that. Since Independence till now the different groups that made up Nigeria have expressed various discontent with their perceived denial of rightful lebenstraum – from the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) in the South South, the Oodua Peoples Congress (OPC), in the South West, the Arewa People’s Congress (APC) in the North, the monster Boko Haram, in the North, the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People, (MOSOP) in the Niger Delta, Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) in the South East,the struggles have plagued the Nigerian socio-political landscape like an incurable pandemic.

Recent developments in Nigeria the past few months, especially the agitations of the then latent but now resurfaced Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), albeit in slight superficial mutations but unaltered ideological foundations, brings to the front burner the challenge of militarizing the unity of the country using the Bismarck prescription,To wit,’Not through speeches and majority decisions will the great questions of the day be decided – that was the great mistake of 1848 and 1849 – but by iron and blood (Eisen und Blut). This is tantamount to ubi solitudinem faciunt, pacem appellant (… they make a desert, they call it peace.). Such approach to the great issues of our time becomes reminiscent of what Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe would call ”democracy with military vigilance”, and bespeaks of our pathetic failure to learn from history.

The Bismarck prescription meets its Waterloo when examined against the backdrop of the Nigerian Civil War (1967 -1970) – a war between unification and dismemberment, taking some three million lives of men, women and children. If anything, hindsight from that macabre chapter of life reveals the wisdom of Robert Green Ingersoll’s counsel that ‘a child forced on his knees only has an attitude of prayer.’ In other words, certain things cannot be achieved by force, iron and blood, Mao Zedong’s the barrel of a gun, but by speaking to the heart of a person, a people. The 1967 -1970 war was therefore a mere military palliative to a great issue without truly speaking to the soul of the issue, hence resurfacing of the spirit of the struggle.

In the light of these current realities, a new approach becomes inevitable.

It is an approach that does not see a people expressing their discontent with the entrenched system of denial as enemies but as stakeholders.

It is an approach that does not see a people asking for a redefinition of unity as rebels but as fellow citizens.

It is an approach that does not see a people calling for justice, equity and fairness as felons.

It is an approach that seeks to win the hearts of people, rather than wound their bodies.

It is a approach that both recognizes and protects the life of every man, woman and child, rather than spill blood.

This approach we must engage to move centrifugal irrespective of divisive tendencies or disengage and move centripetal.

In the words of Prince Hamlet, ”To be, or not to be, that is the question ” we must all ask ourselves. The answer we get, is the future we chose, the path we will walk, and the greatness or otherwise we will achieve.

As I conclude, the wisdom of Scriptures becomes inevitably germane.

Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool – Isaiah 1:18.

We must come together to reason out the great issues of our time.

We must come together to ask for forgiveness of all wrongs, hurts, and injustices of the past, to receive forgiveness and to offer same.

To do otherwise is to order wisdom out of our land.

God bless us all!

NOTE: These are the writer’s earlier thoughts on the Issue, as expressed in early 2016 under the title: “THE UNITY OF NIGERIA AND THE BIAFRAN STRUGGLE”. In the light of the agitations that have continued unabated and mounting insecurity that litter Nigeria’s geo-political landscape, a revisit has become imperative.

Modest Ibe writes from Lagos, and can be reached via modest.ibe@gmail.com

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